UW-Whitewater caps historic year with baseball title
GRAND CHUTE--All doubt has been erased.
The best NCAA Division III baseball team in the nation in 2014 is UW-Whitewater.
The most dominant Division III athletics program in the nation is UW-Whitewater.
You want proof? Read on.
With senior right-hander Scott Plaza controlling the No. 1 hitting team in the Division III World Series and with the Whitewater fielders shining and the hitters once again punishing the opposition, the Warhawks handled Emory, 7-0, to win the national title Tuesday at Fox Cities Stadium.
The victory gave Whitewater an unprecedented NCAA men’s championship sweep in 2013-’14 as the Warhawks added to their titles in football and men’s basketball won earlier this year.
“It’s something this school has come to expect—national championships,” said Plaza, who went 2-0 in the tournament and was named the most outstanding player. “And that’s what we’re going to give them.”
The title was the second for the baseball program, which broke through in 2005 under coach John Vodenlich.
Vodenlich, whose record in 11 seasons is 402-128-1, dedicated the victory to his family. His father, Sasha, saw Whitewater win the title in 2005 but died in the fall of 2010.
“The commonality between the two teams is that it starts with exceptionally talented players that 100 percent buy in and commit to the Hawk,” Vodenlich said. “And that is the bottom line.”
Whitewater, No. 3 in the D3baseball.com final regular-season poll, went 4-0 in the double-elimination tournament, won its last 11 games and 19 of its last 20 and finished the season 44-7.
Emory, which eliminated four teams ranked in the top 12 of D3baseball.com’s poll to reach the championship round, finished 38-13.
“They’re a great team,” Emory coach Mike Twardoski said. “They pitched it today, and they played defense. That always adds up to a win.
“I give them all the credit in the world for playing a great game.”
No one deserved more credit than Plaza (9-2), who pitched on three days of rest after allowing three hits in seven scoreless innings in an 8-1 first-round victory over Southern Maine.
Emory entered the day hitting .355 and averaging 9.2 runs in five tournament games. Opposing starters lasted a total of 6 2/3 innings against the Eagles.
However, Emory could not generate a timely hit against Plaza, who allowed seven hits. He struck out nine and walked two in pitching his fifth complete game of the season.
“When I was in the bullpen and everything was working,” Plaza said, “that’s when I knew it would be a good day.”
In two games (16 innings) in the tournament, Plaza allowed no runs and 10 hits. He struck out 14 and walked four.
“He was very consistent and we never got absolutely comfortable in the box,” said Emory catcher Jared Welch, who entered the day 10 for 20 in the World Series but went 1 for 4 against Plaza. “Whatever the count was, he was going to throw one of his pitches in the strike zone.
“And any pitcher that consistently does that, you’re always going to be battling uphill.”
Emory starter Jackson Weeg, a freshman left-hander, entered the championship round with a 4-1 record and 1.38 ERA. He didn’t make it out of the fourth against a Whitewater lineup that entered the day hitting .346 in the World Series.
Whitewater scored five runs on 10 hits against Weeg, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings. All nine Whitewater starters had at least one hit and six drove in at least one run as the Warhawks finished with 13 hits against three Emory pitchers.
Edgerton High graduate Adam Gregory went 1-for-2, drove in two runs and scored one. He also had a sacrifice. Delavan-Darien High graduate Michael Gonzalez had an RBI single in the third and also scored a run.
Gonzalez also made a diving catch in the seventh on what appeared to be a sacrifice fly. The Warhawks appealed the call at third base, and the Emory runner was called out for leaving early.
“Best hitting team in the nation in my opinion,” said junior second baseman Nick Kuhlmann, who went 2 for 5 with a run scored. “We just get up there and we put barrels on the ball.
“That kid hadn’t faced a team of our caliber.”
And the NCAA hasn’t seen a program the caliber of UW-Whitewater in a single school year.
The football title was the fifth in seven years under coach Lance Leipold. The men’s basketball title was the second in three seasons under Pat Miller and fourth overall. The baseball team now has two titles.
“When you hear Whitewater you don’t think one sport,” KuhLmann said. “That’s history right there. Something to be proud of.”